The MeToo of the Catholic Church - time to speak is now
By Tom Deignan
October 29, 2018
According to Google Maps, St. Joseph-St. Thomas parish is a five-minute drive, via Amboy Road, from Our Lady Star of the Sea, where all four of my children were baptized.
Tack on three minutes if you want to travel via Father Drumgoole Road, named for the Longford-born priest best known for housing and educating thousands of destitute Irish and other immigrant children on the once-rural South Shore of Staten Island.
It was another Irish-born, Staten Island priest who was in the news last week, Monsignor Charles Coen, who served as pastor of St. Joseph-St. Thomas in the 1970s and 1980s. Numerous media outlets reported Coen, now 85 and ill, had been accused of sexual assault by church investigators.
Coen has vehemently denied the charges.
“I am not only denying the charge, but it couldn’t possibly have happened,” Coen, now 85, told the Irish Voice last week. “One thousand percent, I didn’t do this. I never got a proper chance to defend myself from the Archdiocese.”
Is Coen telling the truth? Who could possibly say at this point?
But have or will some clergy members be falsely accused? Of course. Whether memory plays tricks on genuine victims, or someone is crass enough to see some kind of financial gain in a false abuse charge, or church officials view over-reaction as the only way to handle years of under-reaction.
Whatever the reason, this is all yet another inevitable result of decades of secrecy, cover-ups, and lies.
My initial reaction to the claims against Coen were much more personal.
Home to many of the children and grandchildren of the Irish and Italian immigrants who first arrived in the more urban boroughs, Staten Island remains a thoroughly Catholic place, especially its central and southern sections.
No, these latest charges are not the first to hit a Staten Island parish. In 2003, a former altar boy named Dan O’Dougherty charged that he was abused by Monsignor Thomas Gaffney of St. Charles, which just so happens to be the parish my wife grew up in. Gaffney eventually counter-sued but died before the case could be resolved.
And just this month, “substantiated” claims surfaced against Monsignor Francis Boyle (sensing a theme with the names here?), one-time pastor of the still heavily-Irish Blessed Sacrament parish of Staten Island.
Still, consider the degree to which, say, Boston -- another insular place thick with historically Italian and Irish parishes -- was rocked by the abuse scandals.
Yet Boston, for all of its history and culture, is not actually much bigger than Staten Island. The latter has a population of about 650,000 while Staten Island has about 500,000 residents.
As best as I can tell, the large, old parish I grew up in -- Our Lady Queen of Peace, where me and my two sisters were baptized, where my father and his five brothers and sisters were baptized -- has not been tied to credible sex abuse allegations.
Of course, there is little comfort in that. Just because someone is not publicly charged with sexual abuse does not mean sexual abuse did not occur. Many people are shamed into silence when it comes to a horror like this.
Yet with all of this comes an understandable temptation to believe each and every accusation. As it is, consider the position of those dedicated priests and nuns who do amazing work with the desperate and needy every day. Their good deeds are overshadowed, unfairly, by the high-ranking clergy who handled this so awfully for so many years.
Consider how we look back at a revered figure like Father Drumgoole. Consider a man like that working closely with those hundreds and hundreds of boys, in light of the terrible things we have learned in recent years.
This is not unlike what we saw in the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings. We know gruesome things happened in the past. We know the victims felt forced to stay silent.
The time to speak out is now. There will be many, many more victims, far more pain before there is any peace.